Tuesday, February 24, 2009

6 financial milestones before 30

You've got the job, the spouse, maybe a child. Now it's time to grow up.
By Emma Johnson, MSN Money
Some dread it. Some embrace it. Some use the big 3-0 as an excuse to do that one last, precious keg stand. Others become an eternal 29 overnight.
Whatever your attitude about turning 30, experts say it's a good time to assess your personal financial situation.
For many of us, real life is well under way by the time we hit 30. We've usually completed most of our education and have a few years of work experience. The Census Bureau tells us about half of us marry before 30 and that most Americans (56%) have children by then. The National Association of Realtors says the median age for first-time homebuyers in the United States is 32.
And while we all enter our 30s with unique backgrounds and varying goals, experts agree there are some fundamental rules that that can help every young adult participating in a market economy (yes, that means you).
1. Scale back the credit cards. "So many people are credit-carding it up," says Sarah Young Fisher, 53, president of financial-planning firm Kuntz Lesher Capital in Lancaster, Pa., and the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in your 20s and 30s." "I'm an old lady. When I started out, you couldn't get a credit card without a job. Now they just mail it to you and people don't understand how long it takes to pay it off at 20% interest."
The average credit card debt among 25- to 34-year-olds was $5,200 in 2004, according to credit card research firm CardWeb.com. That is on top of the average $19,200 in student-loan debt carried by recent undergraduates.
What are we teaching kids?
Young Fisher says a 30-year-old needs to be "living on your paycheck" -- getting by without taking on credit card debt -- and saving at least 10% of total salary for the future. "If not," she says, "you're not going be able to retire."
She recommends investing in Microsoft Money or Quicken -- user-friendly software programs that track income, expenses and investments and can be programmed to help with taxes and goal-setting.
2. Own a home -- or have a plan. Young Fisher says that homeownership should be a top priority for those who rent. "Start saving for a down payment," she says. "If you find something you love, or a change of life comes along (like a baby or a relocation) and you don't have any money, you're going to borrow or get an interest-only mortgage -- which is ridiculous."
When you do buy, she says, "buy what you can afford, not what you love." And don't forget the new expenses
that come with a house -- like a lawn mower, furnace repairs and snow shovel.
3. Have skills. Even for those who do not consider themselves entrepreneurs, most workers should expect multiple changes in employers and job titles throughout their careers. "By time you're 30, you should develop a set of marketable skills," says Gregg Fisher, 35, founder of Gerstein Fisher, a New York financial-planning firm. "Try to bring something new to the table."
The model of working for the same company for 30 years and retiring with a gold watch is now two generations out of date, says Fisher, who founded his firm -- which serves mostly clients under age 45 -- at age 21.
Today's workers must differentiate themselves in order to survive and thrive, Fisher says. "Everyone's really self-employed. If you work for a company, you just have one client," he says. "If they fire you, you're out of business."
4. Give money away. No, not to the credit card companies, in the form of 24.99% interest-rate payments. Instead, establish a regular charitable giving plan, says Scott Hanson, founder of financial-planning firm Hanson McClain and the author of the recently published "Money Matters: Essential Tips & Tools for Building Financial Peace of Mind."
"I think it's financially healthy to give," says Hanson, who also co-hosts a financial call-in show out of Sacramento, Calif. In talking to clients and callers, he's come to believe that we are an emotionally deprived nation that spends to feel good. When we feel down, we head to the mall.
Hanson believes that the good vibes one feels from giving to a cause can also create that feel-good factor -- one with more significance than a new CD or an 80% discounted cashmere sweater. "Giving your money away puts it in perspective," he says.
5. Know thyself. Introspection is not just for middle-aged guys with ponytails living on a cliff in Japan. Having a firm grasp on your priorities and values is one critical component of a healthy financial life.
Do you really need that fancy car?
For example: Is impressing your friends and strangers one of your core values? No? Then why is that expensive leased SUV sitting in your driveway? "Start to know yourself and build parameters so your life and money line up with those parameters," Hanson says.
"People get so caught up that their goal becomes having another zero before they go. Once we have a roof over our head and food on the table, none of that
other stuff is really going to bring that much pleasure," Hanson says. "Money is not the most important thing. You'll never have any fun with it if it is."
6. Know smart people. It is important to have strong advisers in your life, Young Fisher says. Knowing a good tax preparer, financial adviser, attorney and insurance agent can save you untold amounts of money and stress. "When you do need someone, get someone good," she says.

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